Tracks is a compilation of personal travel essays that range across three continents: from Italy, where Genni Gunn was born and spent her early years, to Canada and Mexico, and through Asia, where she has travelled many times, both reconnecting with her sister and witnessing the emergence of new political realities in Myanmar. While these are journeys into the new and unknown, they also trigger the inner journey to the realm of memory. These pieces dig deep into personal territory, exploring the bonds of an unusually peripatetic family.
In the 1950s, Gunn's parents travelled within Italy, settling wherever Gunn's father's work took him. Their two young daughters were sent to live with relatives, Genni in southern Italy, her sister Ileana in northern Italy. The family was eventually reunited in Canada. Gunn's father was a mysterious presence -- much later she learned he was working with British Intelligence, but during her childhood all she knew was that he would disappear as suddenly as he had appeared. Indelibly marked by their unusual childhood, the sisters became wanderers themselves. While in some ways, their world shrank with the departure of their parents, in other ways, their imaginations were opened to new possibilities. Gunn explores some of those possibilities in this collection. An inveterate traveller, she questions the impulse behind the need to stay in motion, to always be the "other" in the world, while always seeking the home that never was.
Good travel writing opens up the mind, even as it relates a journey. Genni Gunn seems to know this intuitively. And though her collected essays aren't all, or even exclusively, about travel, her instincts remain sound throughout. Gunn is a Vancouver-based writer who has written nine books, including three novels, the most recent of which, Solitaria, was long-listed for the 2011 Giller Prize. Born in Trieste, Italy, she came to Canada when she was 11. She discounts suffering any childhood immigration trauma, but her suddenly being propelled from one continent to another at least partly explains why family ties figure so prominently in this compilation. It also explains why recollections of her early life pop up everywhere -- even decades later, in the midst of exploring remote jungle villages of the Asian subcontinent. Gunn's subtitle is entirely appropriate; though her book is partly about travels to foreign climes (principally Myanmar, but also Cambodia, Mexico and Hawaii), it's also part childhood memoir of a life begun in another country. Still other pieces are about Gunn's past life in Canada.
The tales of journeys taken Gunn details are mighty fine. But they're more than matched by the inner journeys she's tapped for this collection.